DeltaWing prototype takes exhibition lap at Sebring with Marino Franchitti behind the wheel. [Joe Jennings Photo]
Nissan DeltaWing Unveiled At Sebring
by Joe Jennings
Sebring, Fla. - The advanced design Nissan DeltaWing prototype was unveiled at the Sebring International Raceway this week and with a large crowd of media and onlookers watching, the futuristic-looking car turned its initial laps around the legendary road course with Marino Franchitti behind the wheel.
(A beaming Dario Franchitti stood in the background watching his brother bask in the spotlight.)
The Sebring unveiling came three days after a similar unveiling at an auto show in London. In London, the car received rave reviews as it did in Florida.
The unique car is very narrow in the front, giving the vehicle a very unique look. Some may think it looks like a rocket on wheels and the younger generations may believe the car resembles the ones they see in movies or on computer simulations. Others thought it looked like a top-fuel dragster.
The car was constructed by Dan Gurney's All-American Racers and Ben Bowlby, former Lotus Cars chief designer. Relying heavily upon technology, the two parties said the car was designed primarily by computers. Michelin Tires played a key role in the development, as the tire manufacturer had to come up with a small tire capable of high speeds and cornering ability. The front tires are less than 23 inches tall and only 4 inches wide. By comparison, the Audi that won at LeMans a year ago had 14 inch tires on the front that stood 28 inches high.
The car will have Nissan power and along with Nissan, AAR and Bowlby, others playing a substantive role in the presentation of the car were the project's managing partner and ALMS founder Don Panoz and Duncan Dayton of Highcroft Racing. The latter's team will field the car.
Franchitti and Alex Gurney have tested the car for Dayton and the drivers were pleased with the results. Their tests took place at California's Buttonwillow Raceway Park.
The DeltaWing's debut race will be at LeMans in June for the 80th running of the famed endurance race. Between now and then, an intense testing schedule has been devised.
Nick Shorrock of Michelin said the new car represents one of the more extraordinary automotive developments in years.
Designer Bowlby said, "It is a very efficient car that got me excited right away. The strategy was to reduce by one-half the weight, the horsepower and the aerodynamic drag of a prototype as well as significantly reducing the fuel and tire usage."
Added Darren Cox, Nissan Europe general manager, "We knew this was going to be a special project, and it is a massive step forward and very innovative. Everybody is taking a risk but they are doing it for the right reason."
Franchitti was beaming when he got into the car and he continued to beam after taking exhibition laps at Sebring. "It is a huge thrill to drive this car," he said. "My first reaction was where is does this car come from? It looks like it came from an alien planet. When I drove it for the first time, I knew within a lap or two what it was going to be like. The car felt really good and encouraging. But we have a lot of development to do though before LeMans.
"Right off the bat the car felt right and when a car feels right, you go as fast as the car wants to. It feels right at high speed and in the high speed corners." Franchitti said. He went on to say that the California test track didn't have high speed corners but at Sebring, he realized the car's potential. "It just feels like a race car," he summed up.